Sometimes atheists will claim that anyone who professes to be a Christian is really a Christian, no matter what they do. In making such claims they attempt to lump people such as Hitler in a category together with all people who attempt to sincerely follow the word of God and Christ's teachings. Conversely, the same atheists will claim that a secular humanist, such as Peter Singer, in no way represents a valid humanist point of view because the distinguished professor at Princeton supports bestiality and that is considered too extreme.
The problem for the atheist is quite simple. A Christian has a specific text to study and follow in order to clarify what a true Christian is. Atheists and secular humanists have no such standardized text to use as a guide or a standard. For these reasons, a greater scrutiny can be placed on Christians in order to test the validity of their beliefs. And proposing that a verbal profession alone constitutes valid Christianity completely irrespective of actions not only runs counter to common sense, it runs counter to secular dictionary definitions of what a Christian is as well. Dictionary definitions, Venn diagrams and the principles of logic are all useful in helping to discern the main identifying characteristics of various worldviews, what they imply and if they are actually true or not.
a : one who professes belief in the teachings of Jesus Christ b (1) : disciple 2 (2) : a member of one of the Churches of Christ separating from the Disciples of Christ in 1906 (3) : a member of the Christian denomination having part in the union of the United Church of Christ concluded in 1961.
noun: a person who has received Christian baptism or is a believer in Jesus Christ and his teachings.
According to two of the top secular dictionaries, Christianity is not simply a profession, but a profession and a belief attached to certain specific teachings and actions. Therefore, verbal professions alone are not adequate according to secular dictionaries. This, of course, makes sense because anyone can say, "I am a Christian" while at the same time showing opposition to the basic tenets of scripture. There would be many advantages for political leaders who are not sincere Christians who would put on an act in order to garner a following in a nation of Christians. And we have seen this occur repeatedly in history, even as it is occurring at this very moment.
Anthony Flew, a famous apologist for atheism who later became a Christian, came up with a proposition known as the 'No True Scotsman" that has been defined by the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy as an informal logical fallacy.
No True Scotsman
"This error is a kind of ad hoc rescue of one’s generalization in which the reasoner re-characterizes the situation solely in order to escape refutation of the generalization." Atheists often claim that the No True Scotsman fallacy supports the view that such people as Hitler are true representatives of Christianity.
A simple rendition of the 'No True Scotsman' would be as follows:
Alice: All Scotsmen enjoy haggis pudding.
Bob: My uncle is a Scotsman, and he doesn't like haggis pudding!
Alice: Well, all true Scotsmen like haggis pudding.
As far as Hitler is concerned, the conversation would be slightly different: "Hitler could not have been a Christian." "Why not?" "Because no true Christians would deceive the public as such and advocate the genocide of innocent people simply because they are Jewish." "But Hitler said he was a Christian, so he was a Christian. - According to the No Scotsman fallacy, you can't just say he wasn't a Christian just because your view of Christianity may differ from Hitler's personal viewpoint." The No True Scotsman fallacy falls flat with respect to Hitler and Christianity because, as a group, pathological liars and murderers would not be considered a group-characteristic of true Christians.
As Thomas Shirk has pointed out, the reason the No True Scotsman Fallacy is in fact a fallacy is because being a Scotsman is not based on culinary tastes: "...the fallacy becomes valid when set (X) and (Y) are nonintersecting! Since “Scotsman” has no relation to culinary tastes, the sets are capable of intersecting." Take an example where it would work:
Alice: All Christians enjoy spiritual regeneration.
Bob: My uncle is a Christian, and he doesn't have spiritual regeneration.
Alice: Well, all true Christians enjoy spiritual regeneration.
The objection does work in the above case because spiritual regeneration is a vital characteristic of being a true Christian, unlike a mere culinary taste. Whether or not one likes a certain pudding could perhaps be a subjective identifying characteristic of what a person considers a true Scotsman. But, from an objective perspective, it would not be as important as other considerations. The following Venn diagram outlines how the citizenship and heritage factors would probably be more important qualities to consider than affinities for pudding.
When you consider Christianity in a similar manner, what are the most important characteristics that would define a person as a true Christian? According to common sense, a mere moment's confession would not hold as much weight as other characteristics. Both the secular dictionary and the word of God offer that a desire to believe in and follow the actual teachings of Christ is a necessary aspect of being a true Christian. Though only God knows the true state of a person's soul, Jesus said we would know a tree by its fruit. We can have an idea if a person is a true follower of Christ if there is good fruit coming from that person's life.
And there is another aspect, the most important one according to Christ, being born again. According to scripture, good and lasting fruit from a person's life that has a positive and lasting influence is only possible if a person has experienced spiritual regeneration. Jesus said, "You must be born again" if you want to experience eternal life in God's kingdom. It's not merely an option, according to Christ. Though only God knows if a person is in fact born again, there are signs in a person's life that may help to signify this. One of those is sensing the presence of God. Romans 5.5 states, "And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us."(NIV)
In contrast to the life of a Christian who has the word of God and the Spirit of God as guides and validation, there is no textbook on how to become philosophically validated atheist. On the contrary, an atheist may supposedly be a philosophically validated atheist simply by existing because there is no God and no standard that would require any kind of moral validation. If a person holds to a form of atheism that is non-religious and morally relative, then this would allow for the supposed justification of many acts a Christian would find morally reprehensible. When you consider a Venn diagram of atheism, moral relativism and zoophilia, it's easy to see how a certain subgroup of atheists may believe that they are morally vindicated in the support and practice of something as unnatural as zoophilia.
Many atheists are hard-pressed to describe objective reasons why they would find zoophilia morally objectionable without the existence of God, and yet, the same atheists will often proclaim that this behavior is morally unsupportable. It can be a bit daunting to attempt to express these feelings. For example, when I asked PZ Myers if he believed bestiality should be legal or not, he replied, “So, to answer clueless thick-skulled Christian idiot’s question, I don’t object to bestiality in a very limited set of specific conditions, but do not support it in any way.” It is logically incoherent for a person to say he does not morally object to- and does not morally support some extreme action. If PZ Myers were to say, "I do not object to pedophilia under certain circumstances and I do not support pedophilia." - would that make any logical sense?
These types of statements and sentiments help to underscore the fact that objective moral standards do in fact exist and they are grounded in something atheists cannot acknowledge, God's existence. Because atheists reject God's existence as the ultimate moral reference point, they are left with the type of moral confusion that PZ Myers and other atheists often exhibit.
Tags: No true Scotsman fallacy, Anthony Flew, what is a true Christian? Was Hitler really a Christian? Christian Venn diagrams, philosophical Venn diagrams, PZ Myers and atheist moral confusion, how to test a worldview based on morality, Peter singer is a valid secular humanist, Hitler cannot be considered a valid Christian.
Core Essentials of The Christian Faith
Logical Reasons why Moral Relativism is False
A Moral Argument as Proof of God’s Existence